Baltimore to pay nearly $2M to Chicago firm to do quicker background checks on police

Baltimore officials have awarded a nearly $2 million contract to a Chicago firm that says it can conduct background checks of police recruits 10 times faster than city workers, over the objections of the City Council president.

The Board of Estimates voted 4-1 this week to award the $1.975 million contract to Kentech Consulting, after granting the firm extra time to come into compliance with city goals for working with minority- and women-owned companies.

City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young voted against the deal after expressing concerns about the city failing to hire a local company to do the work.

“You know how I feel about local folk getting these contracts,” he said.

Baltimore Police Maj. James Handley said the contract is needed because his staff cannot keep pace with the background checks necessary to process a surge in applications to the police department.

“We have at least 200 people that leave the police department every year in the past 15 years,” he said. “We’ve not been able to keep up with the attrition rate.”

But Handley said the police department is on pace to hire more people this year than it’s losing. He said applications from Baltimoreans are up by 145 percent from last year, and applications from African-Americans are up by 163 percent.

“The good news is Baltimore residents have applied at a much greater rate this year than at any time in the past,” he said. “Our background checks take so long that we lose those applicants to other departments.”

Handley said it typically takes Baltimore police between six months and a year to perform a background check.

Kentech founder Kenneth Coates says his firm will complete background checks in no more than 30 days per applicant. He predicted his firm would speed up the hiring process by 10 times.

Mayor Catherine Pugh said she identified police recruitment and retention as the first mission for her Bloomberg-funded Innovation Team to tackle.

“As a Bloomberg city, one of the first things we looked at was the background checks. The background checks are slowing down the process,” she said. “This is a tedious process and we ask that we do speed it up. We’ve got to get more police officers on the street.”

Young said he wanted the firm to report back to the board in 90 days to make sure they were complying with city goals for working with minority- and women-owned firms.

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